The first major football club in Portsmouth was Royal Artillery F.C. The club lost its standing after being suspended by the Football Associatiion for having violated their amateur status by taking players away for a week’s special training before an Amateur Cup-tie. Out of this debacle, it wasdecided to form a professional club called Portsmouth FC, although this name had earlier been used for a team formed by the renowned local architect Arthur Cogswell.
The scene of the 1898 formation was the office of Alderman J.E. Pink, solicitor of John Brickwood, the owner of local Brickwoods Brewery. He called together a group of local enthusiasts, amongst whom were G. Lewin Oliver, headmaster of a prominent local school, and W. Wigginton, a former Royal Engineers Warrant officer, to form a syndicate and share their resources to buy a patch of land in Fratton on which to build a football ground. Fratton then was agricultural land off Goldsmith Avenue in the heart of the city.
It was not until 1913 that Portsmouth first sported their famous blue shirts and white shorts, inspired by and in response to the local military tradition. They had started out in salmon pink shirts with claret collar and cuffs – giving rise to the nickname The Shrimps – and changed to white shirts and dark blue shorts in 1909 before switching to the colour that earned them the previous nickname of ‘Blue’ or ‘Blue and White Army’. It would be remiss not to mention one feature of Portsmouth’s kit. While most clubs over the years opt for socks in colours to match the principle team colours, Portsmouth reinforce the patriotic theme by wearing red socks, and have done so from the 1930s when such a variation was certainly unusual.
Portsmouths’ crest has always reflected the star and crescent motif incorporated in the city crest. The star and crescent, which seem originally to have been the sun and moon have found their way into civic seals and arms. They appeared on several badges anciently used by English monarchs. They also appeared on the first Great Seal of Richard I and alluded to his vocation as a crusader to the Holy land, the star and moon being an emblem of the Byzantine Empire. Portsmouth, which obtained a charter from Richard I, took the star and crescent as the device for its seal, and of course now bears them as arms. The star and crescent motifs were first used on Pompey’s shirts around 1909, sewn as a badge onto the home shirt. The city crest was used on home and away shirts in the early Nineties.
The club motto – Heaven’s Light Our Guide – also features in the city crest since 1929, and it is also the motto of the Order of the Star of India. This Order was founded by Queen Victoria in 1861, with an insignia including a star and crescent, and it was regarded as very fitting that these symbols should form a prominent ornament on the troopships that conveyed British troops to and from India and regularly called at Portsmouth.
Why ‘Pompey’? This is possibly the greatest mystery in the story of Portsmouth Football Club and very intriguing indeed. The origins of this nickname, which is perhaps the most instantly recognised in the English game, are obscure indeed. Theories abound about the precise origin of ‘Pompey’, although a naval connection is not disputed.
Some claim it lies in an 8-gun French warship Le Pompee, captured in 1793, which later fought with distinction in the battle of Algeciras in 1801 before becoming guardship of Portsmouth Harbour. Others maintain that it was the far from sober sailor’s interruption of a talk by Agnes Weston, the naval temperance worker. He surfaced from a beery slumber during her lecture on the Roman Empire to hear that the General Pompey had been killed. “Poor Old Pompey” he is said to have shouted….such are the roots of legend. But there is another, more authenticated potential root in naval folklore. In 1781 some Portsmouth-based English sailors scaled Pompey’s Pillar near Alexandria and, 98 feet up above Egypt, toasted their ascent in punch. Their feat earned them the Fleet’s tribute as ‘The Pompey Boys’.